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Gluten Free Kauai

by Karen on January 21st, 2013


Map of Kauai from Lonely Planet

We love Kauai and after a very long absence we rented a house together with friends in January.  A house allows you to save so much money on food and take advantage of the local fish market and farmers markets. The few times we went out to eat for  lunch or appetizers we spent over $50 each time. I cannot imagine how we could stay for 10 days and eat out for every meal –especially since the usual gluten free options require a fine dining experience most of the time.

Where to stay in Kauai

When you rent a house or condo be sure you have access to an outdoor grill on your lanai (patio).  Plan to grill simple meals of meat, fish, or chicken served with vegetables.  Houses seem to be priced at about $250 per bedroom per night so if you can get some friends to share a house you can stay in some pretty amazing places that are oceanfront or beachfront.  All the beaches are public in Kauai but we have never found this to be a problem.  If you are lucky enough to stay beachfront you will be sharing the beach with residents and those vacationing.

a typical house rental on Kauai


Consider staying in Hanalei, Princeville, Kapaa, or Poipu.  While it is easy to take a day trip to any of the other parts of the island, be sure the area you select meets your needs because you will likely only use one day of your vacation to drive to the other areas. 

A quick online search will give you many home or condo rental agencies with gorgeous photos with the best ones booking a year in advance. You should be booking your airfare way in advance too in order to take advantage of companion fare tickets or mileage plans otherwise airfare can be cost prohibitive.

We like to fly a non-stop flight from Seattle to Lihue arriving midday so we can visit Costco in Lihue and stock up (and save $$) on better quality meat and chicken, some basic vegetables, wine, Mai Tai supplies, eggs, milk, cheese….

Our final destination is Poipu so our next stop is in Koloa Town to visit the local fish market for incredible mahi-mahi or ahi whatever looks best.  This little place may have the freshest fish you have ever tasted. We bought a gorgeous piece of mahi-mahi for our first night and, cooked on the grill with just salt and pepper, there was not a restaurant around that could have topped our meal that night.  They have a wonderful seaweed salad that does not seem to have any gluten ingredients but I was unable to get confirmation from anyone.

Koloa Fish Market, easy to find on the main street in Koloa Town

Before heading to the house we visit the little grocery store in Koloa and pick up a few small items because once we get to the house we know we do not want to do any more shopping for a few days. 

Mai Tais and Whale Watching

Our tradition is to unload everything and make a big pitcher of Mai Tais along with some pupus (appetizers) and sit on the deck to enjoy the warmth and the eventual sunset with whales spouting in the distance. If you have binoculars, bring them.  January and February are the best times for whale watching.  There have been trips to Kauai in the past where it rains a lot so it is good to have the right gear for whale watching as you sit on the lanai waiting for the rain to stop.

Mai Tai recipe

The best way to start your Hawaiian vacation!
As I watched my husband make these we approximated how much was added by watching the liquid rise in the pitcher, 1 part = 2 inches

Fill a large pitcher with ice cubes and add:

1 part Bacardi rum
1 part Myers rum
1 part plus 1/2 pineapple juice
1 part orange juice
1/2 part sweet and sour mixer

Stir together, put ice into individual glasses and pour each drink.

Finish off each glass with a piece of fresh pineapple and a splash of 151 rum on top.

Sea Life

The first few days involve snorkeling, reading, and relaxing.  My husband loves to snorkel and has been face to face with rays, sharks, eels, and giant turtles.  The first two were encountered in churned up murky water after a big rain, the eel during a night snorkel (he was attracted to the light), and the giant turtles are in the usual spots of Prince Kuhio beach and in between the Sheraton and the Koloa Landing boat launch.  On this trip he also met some baby sea turtles. 

in the middle of Prince Kuhio bay several giant sea turtles delight snorkelers

I prefer to scuba and have had some boat dives where the whales were close enough to hear their underwater song but not actually see them.  I prefer to see walls of coral and colorful fish in the Caribbean whereas the waters of Hawaii are the place to see big fish.  Needless to say I got to read some great books on the beach while he snorkeled!

Farmers Markets and Gluten Free Dining

On Mondays at noon local farmers fill Anne Knudsen Park near the baseball field to sell fresh island flowers, star fruit, apple bananas, papayas, mangoes, lemons, tender lettuce, scallions, and my big find–some gorgeous red and yellow beets.  We roasted the beets and sautéed the greens to serve with some grilled ahi and rice.  It was the perfect meal.   It seems really silly to get excited about beets at a farmers market in Hawaii but we ate plenty of their wonderful fruit all week long.

I am not one who typically enjoys bananas which is a shame as they are such a perfect food.  While in Kauai though I love to eat the apple bananas that cannot be found on the mainland.  The center of the apple banana is sweet with a bit of apple flavor.  Amazingly they sell them at the Lihue Costco too.

On Wednesdays from 4-6pm the shops at Kukui’ula host a culinary market which our friends went to and said there was a vendor selling gluten free baked goods, definitely something to look into the next time we visit.  They also said that their favorite coffee shop in nearby Kalaheo carried gluten free scones.  It is called Kalaheo Coffee Cafe it has been years since we have visited it but it is a great place for a cup of joe so I will have to be sure to go there next time to see how they make their scones.

Also in the shops at Kukui ‘ula is the Living Food Market which offers some gluten free items but beware it is all priced at double what you pay at home.  I like to support them though because it is tough running a business and on Kauai even more so –they have to pay so much freight just to get everything here.

As mentioned before there are plenty of fine dining restaurants where you can eat gluten free.  The Beach House is a favorite for us since it is within walking distance, the food is always good, and they contributed recipes to Cooking Gluten Free!


Tennis, golf, horses, yoga, shopping and gardens on Kauai

If you stay in a house or condo you might not have a pool or tennis courts but the Kiahuna Tennis Club is nearby and sells a one week tennis membership for $100.  For a bit more, your family can use their pool with a water slide and a shallow baby area that even has a little sandy beach. There is a restaurant on-site but their hours change depending on the season, sometimes there is poolside service for food and drink.

There are some inexpensive local golf courses and also the spectacular Hyatt course which has hosted many professional tournaments. Beyond the Hyatt you will find CJM Stables— we have galloped through the brush, walked the horses on the beach, and explored land once owned by the missionary families reminiscent of The Descendants.

And beyond the stables over a v-e-r-y long, bumpy drive in a four wheel vehicle you arrive at Gillan’s Beach. It actually only takes about 10 minutes but it seems much longer because it is such a bad, full-of-holes dirt road. It used to be that this was more secluded because of the road. This time we saw a tour bus around the bend at Kawailoa Bay!

While sitting on Gillan’s beach I saw a mama and baby whale frolicking about 100 yards off shore.

On this trip I attended a fantastic yoga class taught by Maggie at the Anara Spa in the Hyatt.  She took us through moves I had never done before that loosened my hips and relieved shoulder tension.

I am not much for shopping but a few places I always visit for Kauai treasures did not disappoint.  Jungle Girl in Koloa had beautiful quilted blankets from India made by Indian women from used saris. Island Soaps in Koloa carries quality mildly scented soap at fair prices such as sandalwood, lavender, mango, gardenia etc. They also have candles, soap dishes made by locals and mercury lined votives that were quite beautiful. And the gift shop at the Botanical Gardens always has interesting jewelry, carved wood items, quilts, watercolors, etc. by local artists.

The Botanical Gardens offer informative tours, our friends went on the tour and were quite impressed with their guide. Another thing to add to my list of things to do next time.  Someday I want to do a snorkel boat tour up the Na’pali coast.

I took just a few pictures as I was going into the gardens to shop at the gift shop, I am sure the tour is much more impressive!


a strange and unusual plant


have never seen a hibiscus like this

The gift shop at the Botanical Gardens
We had two favorite encounters: buying a cold coconut from the coconut man on Ho’onani  Road on our way towards the Sheraton.  The coconut man has a little section in the corner of his yard with grass mat walls and grass mat covered ground.  Each week he climbs coconut trees to bring home the fruit, most impressive as he is in his 60s but looks younger than many 40-year olds!  We watched him skin a coconut, then he took a pre-skinned, cold coconut out of a cooler that he cracks off the top and sticks in a straw so you can drink the water.  Afterwards he cracks it in half and runs his knife around the flesh for easy eating.  It was a refreshing treat at the end of our walk back to the house.  It’s a good thing we had $5.00 with us so we could enjoy the treat.  Look for the Cold Coconuts sign along the road. 

On our last day we met a man who loves to tend bonsai and graciously allowed us to walk around his yard to see the many bonsai he has trained and his lovely orchids.

And finally, our last stop for amazingly good food was at the airport!?!  We got there a few hours early which was perfect because even though the lines were short it took quite awhile to get through the agricultural inspection, the TSA inspection, and security.  Quite a bit has changed in Lihue, more scrutiny than I have ever seen before.  Once past all that we found ourselves standing in front of the airport bar and grill with 45 minutes to spare.  Al had a spicy, tasty Bloody Mary and some poke. The menu had many items that were likely gluten free based on the descriptions but because of the playoff game it was very crowded and we weren’t able to inquire.

It is definitely worth looking into when you arrive at the airport to help you with your planning when it is time to go home.

Sunset on our last night






  1. we went to Kauai in May and are going back the first of Feb. We stayed at the Sheraton last time and have a condo booked at Kapili Resorts this next visit. I am gluten free and Bubbas Burger made me a burger without the bun. As so many meals were expensive it was a cheaper alternative. I also really enjoyed a little splurge eating at Kioki’s Paradise. We ate in the bar area and there were two Hawaiian singers/guitar players that were really good and funny. I got a grilled steak and it was really good. I also got a Lava Flow drink.

    If you have not tried it you have to take surfing lessons. We went through Titus in Hanelei Bay. Both of us were able to get up. It was a good workout mostly trying to get back out past the break and getting back up on the board.

    We also did the sunset dinner cruise out of Port Allen with Holo Charters. It was the most amazing evening of my life! Seeing the Napali Coast was so gorgeous. They served lasagna, which I couldn’t eat, but they served drinks and the guy made me a special drink after I asked if they had a wine cooler. It was wine, papaya juice, and something else and sooo good. Whales should have gone to Alaskan waters in May, but we are able to see a mama and calf that didn’t go b/c the calf had just been born and couldn’t make the trip. We also saw two different species of dauphins and turtles. Upon coming back down the N-Coast as we got past the military base the sun began to set and it was so beautiful We even had a rainbow towards the mountain. It was perfect!

    We hiked down to the bottom of the waterfall from Fantasy Island. It was almost verticle a lot of the hike. I was so sore I could barely walk the next couple of days.

    I want to do the 8 mile Kalalua Trail but my husband just had knee surgery and it would be too difficult.

    I was so excited to see a post about Kauai. Aloha!

  2. Karen permalink

    I will have to add your tips to my list for next trip. I was in such a hurry to get the post up–it takes awhile—that I didn’t take the time to describe things as well as you do.
    Thank you for adding your information in, maybe we can get some others to tell us about their visit to Kauai.

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